Farmer convicted of 40-year-old murder of missing wife
An 89-year-old farmer has been convicted of killing his wife 40 years ago.
David Venables denied killing Brenda Venables and hiding her body in a septic tank but he was convicted of a single count of murder at Worcester Crown Court today (15 July 2022) following a trial that lasted five weeks.
The body of Mrs Venables, who was 48 when she went missing, was found in the underground septic tank at the couple’s former home, Quaking House Farm, Kempsey in 2019.
She had been missing for four decades but in 2019, several years after Venables had sold the house, her skeletal remains were discovered when a workman began work to empty the septic tank.
Her husband was subsequently charged with her murder in June 2021 and he claimed he was innocent, suggesting that the remains could have been put in the septic tank the week before.
The CPS refuted the idea that someone removed Brenda Venables’ remains from where they had been hidden for years to the septic tank outside her home days before they were found.
The court heard that Venables, of Elgar Drive, Kempsey, wanted his wife out of the way so he could resume his longstanding affair with a woman and it is the case of the CPS that Venables murdered his wife between 2 May and 5 May 1982 so that he could be with his lover. During the initial search for his wife in 1982, he had continued his affair with the woman.
However in his police interview in 2019, he lied about the affair and sought to downplay its significance.
He told police that he searched for his wife after waking up to see she had disappeared on 4 May 1982, and he reported her missing to police that same afternoon.
The CPS proved in court that Venables dumped the body of his wife in the septic tank outside their home, and the body had been there all along since she went missing 40 years ago.
In 1982, the septic tank was in a very secluded area and even people who knew about its existence and who worked there, did not know exactly where it was. Only two people emptied the tank during this period, David Venables himself and another worker who confirmed that at the time of Brenda Venables disappearance, the tank was difficult to access. As a result the prosecution case was that if anybody else had been responsible for Mrs Venables’ death, they would not have known about the septic tank as a means of concealing her body. It was unbelievable that she had been murdered in another location, and her body brought back to where she had lived.
Forensic evidence proved that the skeletal remains were that of Mrs Venables, however could not provide any evidence as to the cause of her death.
Venables also argued that his wife could have committed suicide as she was known to suffer from depression. However, the CPS said it is inconceivable that Brenda Venables went voluntarily into the septic tank and somehow shifted the heavy lid and put it back in place above her so that there was no sign of any disturbance there. There are also no known record of suicide involving sewage, septic tanks or cesspits.
Proving the case
In 1982, the case was treated as a missing person investigation and police protocol and record keeping for such an investigation were not as meticulous as they would be today. Also, some of the officers who carried out the initial searches have since died, which made it harder to disprove Venables’ claim that police searched the septic tank when his wife disappeared. When Mrs Venables' remains were discovered, witnesses from the time were interviewed, and their recollections were inevitably not as detailed as they could have been due to the passage of time.
Despite these challenges, the police and CPS were able to piece together a compelling case that proved Venables was the only person with knowledge of the tank as well as the motive to rid himself of his wife. Venables was found to be responsible after the CPS proved that Mrs Venables was not capable of replacing the tank's lid, even if she had considered killing herself in that manner.
Douglas Marshall of the CPS said: “After 40 years of heartache for the family of Mrs Venables, the conviction of David Venables for his wife’s murder finally brings them justice. During this time he had consistently claimed to know nothing of her whereabouts, despite having concealed her body in the septic tank buried in his garden.
“Although the time elapsed between Brenda’s murder and discovery in 2019 made it impossible to say how she was killed, other evidence was able to piece together a compelling case against David Venables, who suggested as part of his defence that Fred West may have been responsible.
“Unfortunately this verdict comes too late for some of Brenda’s family who have sadly passed away during the intervening decades but I hope that it now brings some measure of comfort to her remaining family and friends.”
Notes to editors
- Douglas Marshall is a Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS West Midlands.